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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Swedish word of the day: gröt

Today's word is used to describe a breakfast food that's very popular in Sweden and across northern Europe.

Swedish word of the day: gröt
Gröt is great! Image: nito103/Depositphotos

Gröt means porridge, a warming food made from oats and water or milk and beloved in Sweden since Viking times.

There are many, many different kinds of gröt ranging from trollgröt or klappgröt (a lingonberry porridge eaten for dessert and whisked into a liquid), nävgröt (a substantial Värmland variant served with pork), julgröt (a dish similar to rice pudding and traditionally eaten on Christmas), tomtegröt (the porridge traditionally left out for the household gnome, naturally) and many others. 

Other related words are grötslev or 'porridge ladle', a kitchen utensil specifically for the serving of porridge (usually made out of wood). Swedes are big fans of having specific tools for certain foods, with the cheese-slice and butter knife being two other examples.

There's also the adjective grötig (porridge-y, porridge-like), which describes something thick and unclear, and perhaps muddled – look out for Swedes describing the Danish language as grötig. Despite the popularity of porridge, it's not a compliment. And gröt itself can also be used in a metaphorical sense to mean 'mess' or 'muddle' or talk about something unclear.

How not to eat your gröt. via GIPHY

Because porridge itself has existed in Sweden for centuries, the Swedish language has long had words for porridge: grøter in early varieties of Swedish and grautr in Old Norse before that.

These words have their origins in the even older word greuna, which meant something like 'to coarsely grind'. This is also the root of other words such as gryta (stew) and grus (gravel/pebbles) in Swedish, but these were much more recent additions to the vocabulary than gröt.

Gröt also pops up in some Swedish idioms and proverbs. Het på gröten (literally 'hot on the porridge') is used to describe someone very eager about something or someone, often but not always with romantic or sexual connotations.. For example: Jonas är het på gröten för Anna (Jonas is keen on Anna).

Gå som katten kring het gröt (literally: 'to walk like the cat around hot porridge) is the Swedish equivalent of “to beat around the bush”, meaning to take a long time to get to the point. In fact, the English language has its own feline version: 'to pussyfoot around something'. So if you say han gick inte som katten kring het gröt, it means 'he got straight to the point'.

And if you describe someone as grötmyndig (literally meaning something like 'of an age to make porridge' or 'authoritative in matters of porridge), it means 'haughty', 'pretentious' or 'loud-mouthed'. But this word actually doesn't have anything to do with porridge. It comes from Low German grootmündig, which became großmundig in today's German and literally means 'big-mouthed'. 

Examples

Gröt är en god och nyttig mat

Porridge is a tasty and healthy food

Ska vi ha gröt till frukost?

Shall we have porridge for breakfast?

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: liga

You may have this word in your native language or recognise it from football leagues such as the German Bundesliga or Spain's La Liga. Liga has a similar meaning in Swedish, too, with one crucial difference.

Swedish word of the day: liga

Liga originally comes from Latin ligāre (“to bind”). In most languages, liga means “league”, a group of individuals, organisations or nations who are united in some way.

Similar words exist in many European languages, such as Dutch, Spanish, Czech and Polish liga, Italian lega, French ligue and Romanian ligă.

A league is almost always something positive or neutral in other languages, but in Swedish a liga is something negative – a criminal gang, with the word ligist referring to a (usually young, male) gang member, thug or hooligan.

Political or diplomatic leagues are usually translated into Swedish as förbund (“union” or “association”) rather than liga: one example is the Swedish term for the League of Nations, Nationernas förbund.

The only exception to this rule is sport, where the popularity of international football leagues such as the Bundesliga and the Premier League has lessened the negative meaning somewhat in this context. Fans of hockey will be familiar with SHL, Svenska hockeyligan, and Sweden’s handball league is referred to as handbollsligan.

The history behind liga’negative meaning in Swedish can be traced back to the Thirty Years’ War, which took place largely within the Holy Roman Empire between 1618 and 1648.

Essentially, the Thirty Years’ War began as a fight between Protestant and Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, with Catholic states forming the Catholic League and Protestant states forming the Protestant Union.

Sweden was – and still is – Lutheran, meaning that, when they got involved in the war in 1630, their enemies were the Catholic League – or the katolska ligan in Swedish, with its members being referred to as ligister or “league-ists”.

King Gustav II Adolf eventually beat the Catholic League in 1631 at the Battle of Breitenfeld, ultimately leading to the formal dissolution of the league in 1635 in the Peace of Prague, which forbade alliances from forming within the Holy Roman Empire.

Although this may seem like ancient history, Swedes still don’t trust a liga – the word’s negative connotations have survived for almost 400 years.

Swedish vocabulary:

Jag är lite orolig för honom, han har börjat hänga med ett gäng ligister.

I’m a bit worried about him, he’s started hanging out with a group of thugs.

Manchester United har vunnit den engelska ligan flest gånger, men City är mästare just nu.

Manchester United have won the Premier League the most times, but City are the current champions.

De säger att det står en liga bakom det senaste inbrottsvågen.

They’re saying there’s a gang behind the recent spate of break-ins.

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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